With the process of public hearings on the Proposed Unitary Plan now completed, council’s role under the Local Government Act is now a bit like a judge about to hear closing arguments in a case.
In making their final decisions on the Unitary Plan, Councillors can only take into account the Independent Hearings Panel’s (IHP) final report and recommendations. They must not consider any further evidence or submissions that were not before the Independent Hearings Panel.
While this is different to the usual council decision-making processes - where Councillors can continue to take into account any views before a decision - it does perform an important role by preserving the integrity of the public consultation carried out over the past three years.
What will the public get to see?
While the process for public input has now finished, the final decision making process will be fully transparent, with the final report from the IHP published on the council’s website and final decisions made in public meetings, including:
- On 27 July, the Independent Hearings Panel recommendations will be published on the Auckland Council website. This includes the Independent Hearings Panel’s reports explaining the recommended changes to the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan and an updated recommended version of the Unitary Plan.
- In late August, the council will make its decisions on the recommended Unitary Plan in public council meetings. Meetings will also be available to watch on the council's live streaming service.
- The final plan will be publicly notified and widely available on 19 August (Unless there is an extension granted by the Minister for the Environment, which could be for up to another 20 working days).
What are the next steps?
A report from the Independent Hearings Panel with its recommendations is due on 22 July. Auckland Council is due to make final decisions on the Auckland Unitary Plan by 19 August.
Final decisions on the Unitary Plan will follow a process set out in the Local Government Act:
- The Independent Hearings Panel will provide its recommendations to the council no later than 22 July 2016.
- The council then has 20 working days to make and publicly notify its decisions (i.e. by 19 August 2016).
- One extension of no more than 20 working days can be granted by the Minister for the Environment if necessary.
- The council must only consider the Independent Hearings Panel recommendations and the reasons for those recommendations.
- The council decisions will need to either accept or reject each recommendation by the Independent Hearings Panel.
What about appeals?
If the council rejects a recommendation made by the Independent Hearings Panel, it must explain why and provide an alternative solution from within the scope of submissions made on the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan, together with a cost-benefit analysis.
The council can accept a recommendation outside the scope of public submissions but only where it is recommended by the Independent Hearings Panel. The IHP will explain why they have made such recommendations.
There are rights of appeal for people to the Environment Court but these are on limited grounds.
We will be publishing more details in the coming weeks on OurAuckland about appeals and the council’s decision-making process.
Did the public get to have a say?
The decisions in August will be the last step in a four-year process, which is the most important planning exercise in New Zealand history, including:
- 249 public meetings in making the draft unitary plan
- 21,210 pieces of written feedback on the draft plan
- 9443 public submissions and 3951 further submissions on the Proposed Unitary Plan
- 249 days of hearings in front of the Independent Hearings Panel
- 10,500 pieces of evidence received by the Independent Hearings Panel.